HC Deb 08 February 1808 vol 10 cc397-407


No. I.—Note from M. Rist to Lord Viscount Howick, dated London, March 9, 1807.

The undersigned, Charge d'Affaires of his majesty the king of Denmark, in transmitting in due time to his court by the Note, by which his excellency viscount Howick acquainted him, on the 10th of Jan. with the Order in Council, (p. 126.), issued by his Britannic majesty, prohibiting all commerce between the different ports of the enemy and those subject to the influence of the French government, foresaw at that time the deep and painful impression which that Order could not fail to produce upon the court of Denmark.—He has this moment received its orders to express to the ministers of his Britannic majesty the surprise and grief which the court of the undersigned has felt in taking notice of a resolution, which, founded upon a principle in itself inadmissible, attacks one of the chief sources of the commercial prosperity of Denmark, and seems to give a blow, as direct as it is unprovoked, to her most sacred rights, and to the treaties which connect her with G. Britain He has received the orders of his court, to detail to his Britannic majesty's government the fatal consequences of this measure, and finally to require its suppression.—The undersigned, in quitting himself of these orders of his excellency. visc. Howick, takes the liberty of demanding from him all the serious attention which the importance of the object requires, for this exposition; which will be dictated by that frankness and moderation (worthy of an independent government, and one friendly to G. Britain,) by which the court of Denmark has been constantly actuated in her proceedings and discussions with that of London.—Of all courts, whose duty and interest it is to defend the rights of neutrality, that of the undersigned is called upon to do so on this occasion more particularly, as well by its situation, as by the nature of the Order in Council in question: It is against her interests principally that it is directed; her subjects chiefly will suffer by its consequences. Almost exclusively in possession of the advantageous coasting trade between the different ports which will henceforward become inaccessible to them, they are menaced with the deprivation of a branch of their navigation, which has occupied until the present time hundreds of vessels, thousands of sailors and industrious workmen, and considerable capitals. Henceforth the Mediterranean will, for the most part, be shut against their enterprises: a voyage from Holland to France, from Italy to Spain, from the Hanse towns to the ports of the Mediterranean, will render their vessels and their cargoes subject to confiscation. Excluded from the greatest part of the ports of the continent of Europe, it is wished that they should renounce, not only the considerable advantages which the neutrality of their flag insures them in carrying on the coasting trade, but also the continuance of an essential part of their direct and legitimate commerce with the ports above-mentioned. After having sold the produce of their country, planks, fish, or corn, in one of the Northern ports of Holland, France, or Spain, they will be obliged to return in ballast, because they will not be allowed to seek, in the Southern ports of those countries, and of Italy, such merchandize as the countries of the North have occasion for, and which can alone produce returns sufficiently advantageous to reimburse the expences of their voyages. In order to procure salt, wines, brandy, and oil, it will be necessary for them to sail from Danish ports for the most part in ballast, in order to fetch them from the ports of the Mediterranean; if they do not prefer, which, according to all appearance will be the case, to renounce altogether a traffic, which would henceforward become a ruinous speculation.—And how can the subjects of his Danish majesty be deprived of their legitimate traffic, of one of the principal branches of their industry? By what right can they be stopped in the pursuit of a peaceable occupation, the exercise of which is guaranteed to them by the public law of nations, and by the sacred faith of treaties; which insure to Denmark, on the part of G. Britain, the unlimited liberty of the seas in all cases in which Denmark has not herself consented, by express stipulations, to renounce the exercise of a part of her rights?—They will be so deprived, according to a principle of retaliation, not against Denmark, for she has never swerved from the strict execution of her treaties, or from her duties towards England; but against a third power, whose example G. Britain seems but too ready to follow, in order to render the stipulations of treaties, and the pacific relations between states, subordinate to a right of war, indefinite in its principle, unlimited in its extent, incalculable in its consequences, but completely foreign to, and by no means binding on, a neutral power, independent, and protected by solemn and recent treaties.—The undersigned has received express orders from his court, to declare, in its name, that it regards the right of retaliation, upon which the Order in Council of his Britannic majesty is founded, as absolutely inadmissible, in its principle and in its consequences. To establish this right, it would be necessary to begin by destroying the first notions of general and public law. It must be intended to lay down as a principle, that every power has a right arbitrarily to renounce engagements, and to derogate from solemn stipulations with another power, for no other reason than that its relations with a third power have changed their character.—It must be intended to insist that the privileges, interests, and property, of a neutral nation, are at the disposition of every other power, although connected with it by treaties, as soon as the course of events, or the inclinations of that power should engage her in a war entirely foreign to the neutral nation.—The palpable inconsistency and falsehood of such reasoning cannot be equalled but by its fatal consequences with respect to society. It cannot escape the penetration of his Britannic majesty's ministers, that a principle, which would render the relations and mutual obligations between two countries dependent upon any acts whatsoever of a third power, or rather which would constitute a state of war, the supreme regulator of all the relations of human society, would destroy the very basis of that society, in order openly to sanction the right of strength, and, in the end, to pave the way for that of universal anarchy.—This (the undersigned regrets to avow it) is nevertheless the tendency of the principle upon which the resolutions adopted by the French government against the commerce of G. Britain are cited, as motives to induce his Britannic majesty to set aside the treaties subsisting between England and Denmark, and especially that of the 17th June, 1801, which guarantees to the latter power,in the case expressly foreseen, of any maritime war whatever, the entire liberty of its commerce, with the exception only of those restrictions mentioned in the third article. This is the spirit of a measure, which inflicts upon the commerce of Danish subjects the most severe wound of which the history of neutrality offers an example.—The undersigned does not apprehend that he has said too much in advancing this assertion: he has done so purposely, and entirely foreseeing that the French Decree of the 21st Nov. 1806, together with all its pernicious consequences to the commerce of neutrals, will be cited to invalidate it. The undersigned would have esteemed himself fortunate, if he could have avoided the necessity of making a comparison between the two measures, or of drawing a parallel between their effects, more or less pernicious to the commerce of Denmark; but the weighty and important nature of the task which he has to fulfil, imposes this duty upon him. He will, however, in order to make the ministers of his Britannic majesty acquainted with the measure of the impression which these two Decrees, in opposition to each other, must have produced in Denmark, content himself with stating, that, according to the official explanations which the undersigned has just received from his court, the French Decree does not, as we were led to suppose from its expressions, bear upon all vessels carrying on commerce with England, but only upon those which, coming from an English port, are desirous of entering a port of France; that it enacts the confiscation of those vessels only which refuse to submit to the notification of the Decree at their entry into one of the said ports, or which are desirous of concealing their having lately put into a port of G. Britain; that therefore the provisions of the French Decree, a great part of which cannot, from their nature, be carried into effect, have not as yet caused any sensible interruption to the commerce of Denmark with G. Britain.—The undersigned must also observe, that the Decree of the 21st of Nov. limited as it is in its application, turns evidently against France herself and her allies; or at least obliges them to participate in the greatest part of the evils and annoyance directed against the commerce of neutrals: That it therefore seems to carry with it the guarantee of its lenient execution, and probably of its short duration.—The undersigned feels it his duty to add, that his court has nevertheless made urgent representations to the French government against a measure, the principle of which it cannot but consider as a direct and manifest violation of its rights: That, far from being willing or able to acquiesce in it, his court thought that it employed the best weapons which its situation and the justice of its cause afforded, when it protested solemnly against the subversion of principle, and the contempt of the law of nations, of which this Decree gives so fatal an example.—But the greater the disgust of the court of the undersigned at the spirit of the Decree of the 21st Nov. and particularly at the motive alleged for its justification, namely, that of retaliation, the more profound was its regret on seeing G. Britain, in her late measures, follow the footsteps of her enemy, and take advantage of his example, to sanction a doctrine, the principle of which seems more to be feared in itself, than the more or less enlarged scale of the regulations which determine its effect and extent.—The court of Denmark cannot dissemble her apprehensions, that the French government will reckon among its triumphs, the having engaged England in measures which, while they justified its own proceeding, necessarily weakened the ties of friendship which attached the neutral nations to G. Britain, and that it will find in the Order in Council of his Britannic majesty, a new motive, or at least a pretext, not only for persisting in its fatal measures, and for enforcing their dormant rigour, but also for augmenting, if possible, its original violence, and completing the ruin of nations, which, until the present time, had preserved the blessings and the prosperity of peace. The undersigned abstains, but too willingly, from completing the terrible picture which the perspective of such a contest appears to present.— Authorised to declare, in the most precise manner, that. the court of Denmark can never acquiesce in any degree in the Order in Council of his Britannic majesty, which has been communicated to the undersigned on the 10th of Jan. nor consent that her vessels should be treated in conformity to it, and to protest formally against its principle and its consequences; the undersigned, however, feels pleasure in transmitting to his excellency visc. Howick, and in partaking, the hopes of his court, that his Britannic majesty will not give effect to the resolution in question; but that, by suppressing it, he will continue and cement the relations of amity and good understanding which attach to his interests the court of Denmark, whose constant efforts have been directed to the observance of her engagements, and to the preservation of her relations with G. Britain.—This hope receives additional vigour from a knowledge of the liberal way of thinking and acting of the enlightened minister to whom the undersigned has the honour to address the representations in favour of neutral rights, which have already more than once found in him their advocate.—The Undersigned has the honour, &c. J. RIST.

No. II.—Note from Lord Visc. Howick to Mr. Rist, dated Foreign-Office, 17th March, 1807.

The undersigned, his majesty's principal secretary of state for Foreign affairs, has the honour of informing Mr. Rist, that he has lost no time in submitting to his majesty's government his Note of the 9th inst.; and that it has received all the attention which the magnitude of the subject, and the various and important considerations which it involves, certainly required.—It is much to be wished that the Danish government, before it had suffered itself to indulge in the representations contained in the above official paper, had considered with more calmness the nature and objects of the Decree of the French government of the 21st of Nov. last, and the Order in Council which, in consequence of that Decree, has been, issued by his majesty.—The undersigned is under the necessity of thus calling, in the outset, the attention of the Danish minister to the original state of the question; because M. Rist, in his reference both to the Decree of the 21st Nov. 1806, and to his majesty's Order in Council, seems to have misconceived the tenor and effect of both; uniformly excusing and palliating the one, and in no less a degree heightening, and aggravating the supposed tendency and consequences of the other.—By the Decree of the 21st Nov. which upon the falsest allegations is justified by the principle of retaliation, the enemy has presumed to declare the British isles in a state of blockade, prohibiting at the same time all commerce with them, and all trading in English merchandise; and by the same instrument, the Prize Courts of France are directed to enforce these regulations. Neutrals are consequently interdicted from all commercial intercourse with G. Britain, and all trading in her commodities.—The French government, in adopting a measure at once so violent in itself and of such injustice with respect to the consequences which must necessarily have been expected to result from it, committed a manifest act of hostile aggression (though immediately directed against G. Britain) against the rights of every state not engaged in the war, which, if not resisted on their part, must unavoidably deprive them of the privileges of a fair neutrality, and must suspend the operation of treaties formed for the protection of neutral rights, thus fundamentally violated in their first and most essential principles.—The injury which would be sustained by G. Britain, if she suffered her commerce with foreign nations to be thus interdicted, whilst that of the enemy with them should remain unmolested, is so manifest, that it can require no illustration. It never could have been presumed that his majesty would submit to such an injury, waiting in patient acquiescence till France might think proper to attend to the slow and feeble remonstrances of states not engaged in the war, or that he should forbear to take immediate steps to check the violence of the enemy, and to retort upon him the evils of his own injustice.—Had his majesty at once determined to exact the full measure of retaliation to which he was justly entitled, (and which nothing but the most generous regard for the commercial interests of neutral powers could have induced him to forgo) let Denmark reflect upon the effect which such a determination would have had upon her commerce, taking into her consideration at the same time, the means which G. Britain possesses of enforcing it; and then let her compare it with the measure of forbearance and lenity which has been adopted.—His maj. would unquestionably have been justified in resorting to the fullest measures of retaliation, in consequence of this unparalleled aggression; and other powers would have no right to complain, if the king had immediately proceeded to declare all the countries occupied by the enemy to be in a state of blockade, and to prohibit all trade in the produce of those countries; for, as the French decree itself expresses it, the law of nature justifies the employing against the enemy the same arms which he makes use of. if third parties suffer from these measures, their demand of reparation must be made to that country which first violates the established usages of war, and the rights of neutral states.—The British government, however, was neither hasty nor rigorous in its measures. His majesty waited nearly two months before he had recourse even to the mitigated measure of retaliation, which a due regard for the dignity of his crown and the interests of his subjects has at length exacted from him.—Whether in the mean time any such steps were taken by Denmark as were required by the insult which had been offered by the enemy to her sovereignty and independence, and the injury done to her neutral rights, this government is altogether ignorant. All that is known here is, that a formal communication of the Decree of the 21st of Nov. was made by the French minister at the court of Kiel; the answer of the Danish government has not transpired; but no intention of resistance has appeared in any public document, or in any steps taken by the Danish government: whilst, on the other hand, it has observed a conduct not apparently calculated to enforce the respect due to the rights of a neutral nation, nor in consistency with the character of a power determined equally to resist any measures affecting those rights, from whatever quarter they might proceed.—The troops which were stationed in Holstein, whilst those of the allies were near that frontier, have been immediately withdrawn on the approach of the French army; and the general intercourse between this country and Husum, never refused in any former war, has been the subject of continual complaint and remonstrance on the part of the Danish ministry.—Having made these preliminary observations, it will be necessary to enter into a candid and dispassionate investigation of the general nature and effect of the Order in Council of the 7th Jan, of the causes which produced it, and of some of the principal objects which it had in view. in doing this, the undersigned is first led to consider the probable extent of its operation, as it affects the carrying and direct trade to Denmark, and of other neutral Powers; and this will be the more necessary with regard to the latter and more important description of commerce, inasmuch as impediments are supposed to be thrown in the way of it by the Danish minister, which have no real existence, and which the eases assumed by him in his official note, are very far from establishing. From the natural, obvious, and equitable construction of the instrument in question, it will be seen that these cases are altogether exempted from its operation. For wherever it can be shewn that a Danish or other neutral vessel, after having delivered her outward cargo, or any part of it, at one of the ports in possession of France or her allies, or occupied by that power, shall bona fide propose to proceed to another, solely for the purpose of shipping a cargo, consisting of such articles as she may require for her homeward voyage, it is clear that such vessel would not be considered in our Courts of prize as liable to the penal consequences of the order. In framing the Order in Council of the 7th January, his majesty's government has indeed studiously endeavoured to avoid distressing nations not engaged in the war. The neutral is still at liberty to carry his own products to a market in hostile countries, to procure from thence articles for his own consumption, and to engage in mercantile speculations, from hostile countries to other neutral countries, or to the British islands.—The object of the Order in Council was, to prevent the enemy from carrying on his coasting trade through-the means of neutral bottoms, at a time when the naval superiority of G. Britain precluded him from effecting it in vessels navigated under his own flag, and belonging to his own subjects. But the trading from hostile port to hostile port, at the same time that it was so beneficial and even necessary to the enemy,was comparatively of little benefit to the neutral and hardly entitled to the character of neutral commerce.—The coasting trade of the enemy in time of peace is carried on by his own navigation. Even the other branches of trade referred to, viz. from Holland to France, to Spain, and the hostile ports in the Mediterranean, in time of peace, chiefly pass by the navigation of those countries respectively.—It is prin- cipally from the success of the British maritime force, which has almost annihilated the navigation of the enemy, that the ships of Denmark and other neutral states are employed as carriers from hostile port to hostile port, in order to relieve the enemy from his distress; and it is notorious that the trade thus carried on, is supported by the shameful misconduct of neutral, merchants, who lend, their names for a small per centage, not only to cover the goods, but in numberless instances to mask the ships of the enemy.—The Danish minister, in his note, seems, indeed, so intent upon asserting neutral rights, as apparently to forget that there also exist corresponding neutral duties.—Neutrality, properly considered, does not consist in taking advantage of every situation between belligerent states, by which emolument may accrue to the neutral, whatever. may be the consequences to either belligerent party; but in observing a strict and honest impartiality, so as not to afford advantage in the war to either; and particularly in so far restraining its trade to the accustomed course which it held in time of peace, as not to render assistance to one belligerent in escaping the effect of the other's hostilities. The duty of a neutral is—"non interponere se bello, non hoste imminente hostem eripere;" and yet it is manifest, that lending a neutral navigation to carry on the coasting trade of the enemy, is in direct contradiction to this definition of neutral obligations, as it is, in effect, to rescue the commerce of the enemy from the distress to which it is reduced by the superiority of the British navy, to assist his resources, and to prevent G. Britain from bringing him to reasonable terms of peace.—To put a stop therefore to this species of trade, is a measure which might easily have been justified without reference to the late conduct of France; and even if the Danish navigation were likely to suffer some inconvenience from it, there would not exist any just ground of complaint: but when it is the only step in the way of retaliation which has hitherto been adopted on the part of the British government, his majesty's forbearance and magnanimity must appear eminently conspicuous.—If, after all, the probable consequences of this measure are contemplated with any degree of temper, they will appear rather likely to prove beneficial than otherwise to the Danish nation. The products of the hosi le countries will of necessity find. their way into Neutral countries, not only for consumption but for re-exportation: Denmark will then become a great entrepot; her navigation will not have the less employment; the real bona fide commerce of her subjects will be extended, and her revenue at the same time will be considerably benefited.—The enemy, it is true, will suffer by the enhanced price which he must pay for the articles Which he imports, when obtained in this circuitous mode, and by the reduced price at which he will be obliged to dispose of his exports, as well as by the increased difficulty of covering his commerce under a neutral flag. But it is presumed that these considerations cannot furnish any just cause of complaint on the part of Denmark, the real trade of which country will, in all probability, be eventually rather benefited than exposed to any injury from the measure in question.—Upon the whole, the undersigned is instructed to declare to M. Rist, that his majesty cannot be induced to revoke the Order in Council of the 7th Jan. till France shall not only have desisted from acting on the Decree of the 21st Nov. but shall have publicly and formally repealed it. Should Denmark adhere to the resolution she has expressed, of resisting the unjust pretensions of the enemy, and manifest a sincere disposition to maintain a real and honourable neutrality, it is very far from his majesty's wish or intention to deprive her of any of the advantages which fairly belong to that relation; but if unfortunately it shall appear that this neutrality consists in mere assertion, and displays itself only in remonstrances on her part, against such measures as his majesty is justly authorized to adopt, in support of the dignity of his crown, and the interests of his subjects, and on the other hand, in the most complete and unqualified acquiescence in every demand which the enemy may think proper to advance, the king would consider himself as wanting in the regard which he owes to his own honour and the welfare of his dominions, were he to omit taking, on his part, such measures as may be necessary to secure both, against the injury which must necessarily arise from a continuance of such conduct on the part of the Danish government. HOWICK.